We awoke in our wet sleeping bags to a strong wind, grey skies and waves pounding into what was last night an almost completely motionless beach, vowing we would be getting a new tent from Black Diamond or else!
And then we set off, down one of the worlds best and quietest roads, for Dublin. Mind you there was the occasional pot hole so it wasn't perfect, but it was pretty close.
A couple of hours later and we stopped for some water and a snack. I bought a Drifter chocolate bar and a Yorkie chocolate bar, you can't get either of these in Australia! And I haven't seen them anywhere else either, so despite the fact that I'm not really a huge chocolate fan, I thought I'd just have to give them a shot.
One thing the Yorkie had going for it in my books was that it had big writing on it that says 'NOT FOR GIRLS!, and then it had a picture of a girl with a cross through it just to emphasize the fact that this chocolate bar 'really' wasn't for girls.
So anyway, seeing that I had two chocolate bars Shanna was desperate to try them. I let her try some of the Drifter, and I thought that was fair, but then she wanted to try some of the Yorkie.
Now me being one of those people who always tries to do the right thing I couldn't possibly let her have any of the Yorkie, because, like it says on the packet, it's 'NOT FOR GIRLS!'
Shanna wasn't too happy with this and I tried to explain that it wasn't my fault, I was only following the rules, but she just didn't seem to understand.
So, determined to follow the rules I ate it, every last bit!
And, it was delicious!
And I would have liked to have finished this blog right there but I'd be lying. Because the truth was that I gave in and broke the Yorkie rules and gave her half, and I'd like to say that it was out of the goodness of my heart, but it was because, actually, it wasn't even that good.
And then we rode to Dublin, through a gale force wind, up and over a hill that the Irish call a mountain were we paused for a moment to catch our breath. And looking out upon the ocean, knowing that this was the last time I might ever see the Irish Sea (and because I am really tired, then and now) I began to imagine that I could see leprechauns, dressed in green, riding the waves off into the distance. And the more I imagined it the more I thought I could really see them in their cute little costumes, riding off over the waves, never to be seen again.
Until they pop up when you least expect it... smacking you on the head with a Yorkie bar, because, you see, Shanna made me break the Yorkie rules!
Yesterday it was sunny.
We rode a long way.
There was a lot of hills.
We had some lunch.
It was good, half a chicken with mashed, roasted, boiled and wedged potatoes, carrots and cauliflower.
But Shanna ate most of that, hungry little animal. And Shanna had something else too, but I don’t remember what it was because I don’t care.
Then we rode to a beach.
It was near Courtown, where a ship that left Liverpool with 328 Irishmen bound for great new lives in America sunk. Not one of them lived.
And so then, being dense, and being Australian, we decided to swim in the Irish sea, Saint Georges Channel, the bit of water that separates Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, from the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Wales, (and Northern Ireland).
Yep, confused myself there too.
And after I’d swum in the Irish sea my nipples were stinging, because it was really, really cold.
So then we set up the tent near the beach.
And then we went to sleep.
But then I woke up because my sleeping bag was wet, and it wasn’t from incontinence, I stopped doing that three years ago.
So then our tent was flooded again because it is no longer waterproof.
So, at 2am I got out the tarp and covered the tent, and mopped up the water.
But then it got really, really windy.
So then I thought we were going to get blown into the Irish sea.
But then I was so tired that I didn’t care if we got blown into the Irish sea or not and so then, I just fell asleep.
But then I woke up again because I had to take a whiz.
And then I was scratching a lot and going crazy, and that was because I had fleas.
Probably still do.
We slept well, the best sleep we'd had for ages. Our legs felt like they might have actually recovered a little.
One our way up the big hill out of Tramore we stopped in a snack shop. While the lady made us a smoothie she asked questions about the trip, and commented that it was like talking to celebrities... 'Wow, I can't believe it,' she said 'I'm talking to celebrities, wow, your like superstars or somethen.'
'More like or somethen,' I replied.
But now Sam thinks he's some kind of superstar... It was hard to drag him away from such a beautiful little town, where we had a good nights sleep, and people think he is a celebrity.
It was another day filled with amazing scenery and constant hills. I wonder (constantly out loud) if Ireland actually has any flat roads, it seems we're always going either up or down.
While we ate our rolls with ham outside a supermarket in the middle of nowhere, rain started to fall and the temperature plummeted. We put on our jackets and set off again, only to peel off the layers a couple of kilometres down the road in the hot sun. It's like that constantly. The weather changes in a moment from hot and sunny to cold and rainy. It certainly keeps things interesting.
One of our favourite moments of the day was stopping at a beautiful graveyard by the sea, and seeing the ruins of Tintern abbey across the boggy river. We stopped to sit on a bench in the sun. Wait, now the bench is in the shade...
Late in the day we found the perfect camp site in an open field by the road. We camped under a huge old tree and slept peacefully, despite our fears it would rain.
Special mention: to Sam for taking such awesome photos every day - usually from the seat of his bike while he's riding!
Dungarvan to Tramore
Ever woken up to a puddle of water in your tent and wondered if somehow you’d floated into the ocean?
Being in one of the most expensive two man four season tents in the world didn’t seem to help much last night. The wind and rain was so strong that when we woke up in the morning I was surprised to see the tent still standing were we’d erected it last night. But by the look of how much water we were swimming in, we might has well have floated into the Irish Sea.
Through the night I wondered if the tent was leaking, I was getting wetter and wetter but couldn’t understand why. But I knew there was nothing I could do, so I just had to try and sleep with the side of the tent constantly blowing into my back. When I got out of the tent at 7am the wind was still screaming and the ocean had become wilder, the waves slamming into the side of the concrete pavilion next to us.
We grabbed everything out and wrung them whilst strategically hanging out clothes, sleeping bags and sleeping mats all over the beach. Over the next four hours we waited for everything to dry (photo), occasionally running after things when they blew away while sitting on the beach watching more daring (read crazy) Irish swim and bodyboard in the freezing water. Thinking I might be a dare devil and give it a go myself I stripped down to my shorts and began walking in.
Damn, it's even colder than it looks I thought, looking down after a few minutes to check if my legs had turned blue. In now, but not quite up to the waste it begins to feel OK, and thats when I realize that it's because my feet have gone numb. Unbelievably there's a woman just to my left in her bathers, smiling away whilst riding the waves on her body board.
Just before lunch time we're back on the road. Riding down the beautiful Irish coastline everything seems to be forgotten, but we are both exhausted, so only about 45kms later, after some steep hills and a few short down pours we stop in Tramore, an incredibly picturesque coastal town set on the top of a steep hill overlooking a u shaped inlet were the ocean meets the river.
It rains for the rest of the day, so we hole up in one of the many pubs for what's left of the afternoon.
Looking in the mirror that night I can't believe it, I think I might have sunburn!
We got off the boat and looked around. And then, simultaneously we both asked each other, 'where are we?'
'Ringaskiddy' a sign said. So we started riding in the right general direction, or so it seemed. Until we took a turn down a side road, one of the best side roads we've ridden in months, beautiful surface, barely any cars, framed by old stone walls and tunnels of green.
And then we came to a river, where we saw another ferry.
And it seemed in the right general direction so we decided to get on.
But it said we had to pay, one euro each, but we only had one euro and fifty cents between the both of us, but the man said it didn't matter, we could go for free.
So we got on the boat, and went to the other side of the river, a river sparkling blue, twinkling underneath the boats above its surface alongside the houses that line its stone walled shores.
You would like this place, really I think you would, you might, if you came here and the sun was shining like it is right now, even start to imagine yourself living in a place like this. Well I did.
And then we discovered that we were on an island, the Island of Cobh. And so I was thinking, I was thinking that no-one really talks about how beautiful Ireland is, and apparently, at least we were warned by some Irish people before we came that this was the ugly part, the part we shouldn't bother with. So I'm wondering to myself, bloody hell I'm thinking, have they ever been here, because how much better than this can you get?
And right about then as the road, framed by stone walls goes over a crest I see a big tree growing out of the water, and then we look ahead and see a beautiful bridge, and behind this beautiful bridge there's the remains of a castle. And I'll stop here and just say that you should come here, if you can, and ride these streets on a bicycle. But don't just take my word for it, have a look at some of the photo's. I took those and I'm not even much of an amateur photographer.
We crossed the old bridge, hundreds of years old, centuries, and left the small island.
And then, thirty kilometers later, busting to go to the toilet we stopped at a little pub at the side of the road. It didn't look much, but we got inside and the old couple said, 'this ere' place is more than three hundred years old.' Wow.
And then it got really, really, really windy. And then, when we got to the beach, a beautiful freezing cold Irish beach we looked up and it began to rain, a cold sleeting rain.
So we looked left and we saw a family, running excitedly for the water, shirts off, diving into the icy ocean, cries of joy, body boards out. And then, unable to believe my eyes I look to my right and see some elderly gentleman bobbing gracefully among the waves and the spray. And I look over through the rain and the wind at Shanna and say, 'crazy bloody Irish!'
What a country!
We made it to Swansea with plenty of time to spare, but not before getting caught in a rain storm. We hid under a bridge, wondering if it would clear, and when it slowed down to a drizzle we kept on riding.
After hanging out for a while we decided to go down to the ferry terminal early, about 5pm. When we got there I figured we were in the wrong place, with a checkpoint and big semi-trailer trucks pouring through. We asked the man, twice because we couldn’t understand the first time, if we could go through to the ferry. ‘Six o’clock is the earliest ye can coom, no earler’ then this’ he said.
7pm and we go back to the checkpoint, but the man has left, so we just keep on riding, until we hit the traffic jam. Half an hour of standing in line, sitting on our bikes and it seems we’re nearing the front of the queue when we see someone yelling out to us, in Irish and gesturing that we should go around the back way. Thanks for telling us, Shanna says laughing, and mumbles something to me about us freezing our butts off for nothing.
We get down to the spot and there’s no one there who knows what’s going on, so one of the coppa digga’s (police) standing around doing nothing sends his buddy off to find out.
Ten minutes later and he comes back and tells us we have to go join the queue and line up with everyone else so that customs can search our bags. Awesome, I say, annoyed, no more like pissed off.
Half an hour later after going through customs were one man is working and being watched by six other people (no wonder the UK is going broke!) and we are finally on board. After riding more than ten ferries over short and long distance this one has taken well over double the time to board of the next best challenger.
We watched the boat leave the harbor under Swansea’s glittering lights and then found our room on board, a hot shoe box. It was so hot in there we decided to check out the boats attractions, and found, a leprechaun for sale in the down stairs shop.
Over the PA system the captain announces that the stabilizers are coming out to try and settle things a bit, but nothing seems to change, and our stomachs are still churning. Finally, with the boat rocking like mad we fall asleep at midnight, but get woken up by a bunch of drunk welsh women at one in the morning. In my sleeping attire (a pair of jocks), groggy and still half asleep I open the door to see what all the fuss is about, and immediately get an ear full of cat calls. One of them says sorry and I hope this means the noise will lower a few decibels.
6am and the captain is on the PA again to let us all know that the restaurant is open for our business, if we would be so kind to get up now and cough up some more money.
At 8am we go down below to the cargo area to untie our bikes, only to find that they’ve been untied already, and are now in a different position. We look at each other, droopy eyes, both thinking the same thing, it can only get better from here.
And it does.
Yesterday we left Pontypridd.
Thanks Juanita and Lex for your hospitality, it helped us out heaps.
...And thanks Shanny for the lasagne last night and the pancakes this morning, they went down a treat!
After having caught the train back from London the day before we stayed the night in Ponty', and then we left, on the way to... on the way to the ferry terminal in Swansea, were our chariot (a big boat) awaits us.
With only about 70k's to ride to get to Swansea I was keeping an eye out for a good place to free camp for the night, and it didn't take long to find the perfect spot. With a small stream running over smooth rocks and a large field, trees and a big old beautiful bridge, we figured we were set for anything, and if it rained, (which it did) we decided the bridge would be perfect cover.
After checking out the hiking tracks nearby we crashed in the tent about 9, or just after sunset, and layed on our little sleeping mats wondering about what our new destination would have in store for us.
We started at Charing Cross with the intention of exploring the second hand book stores along the road, but most of them weren't open until midday. So we walked down Oxford Street, stopped in a couple of bike and outdoor shops and I splurged and bought a new tshirt, jumper and bike shoes. It was so exciting to have new clothes! It's the closest to shopping I've gotten for ages.
We made our way to the Speakers Corner in Hyde Park where people were standing on step ladders to draw crowds and share their political or religious messages. Unsurprisingly, many were Christians sharing their beliefs. They showed their great oratory skill, concentration, patience and 'progressive' lines of reasoning as they kept their composure despite the many (mostly Muslim) hecklers at the front of the crowds. But to be fair, the arguments were going both ways.
In fact, as we moved from crowd to crowd, and group to group the same scene repeated itself. And the same philosophical arguments (although that could be generous) were going round in circles in each group, at least that's what we could make out when they weren't yelling at each other. We would hear someone quote a scripture only to hear the reply 'But you’re reading your bible…' Debates about whether Jesus and God are one; affirmations that Jesus was Muslim, and an Indian preacher who declared he was a Jew and that Jesus was the King of the Jews.
It was a strange place to be. Sam and I got involved in some discussions with different people, including one about western democracy, but soon realised that most people didn't want to listen to each other; they only wanted to argue while expounding and enunciating their personal convictions.
The man in the third photo was one of the exceptions, and he had a fascinating story, I hope his narrative gets the attention it deserves.
The bus from Cardiff was stuffy and bumpy… I was feeling a little sick so I knew Sam was feeling terrible. Luckily it arrived in London early, not late as we’d been warned, and we jumped off seemingly eager to explore London, grateful to be out of the bus and in the fresh air.
It was a few hours before we could head to the home of our Warm Showers host, Max, so we found some maps and brochures, and sat down in a food court with public wifi, to plan the next couple of days.
It was confusing – there was the London Pass, where you pay for the pass, then get free entry to selected sights. But some of the biggest attractions were not part of it. And of course it was quite a big outlay of cash. We had some half price vouchers given to us on the coach… but did we want to go to those places? And then there were lots of places that were free to visit – so could we stick to them? I spent time working out different price options and circling places on the map… not really coming to any conclusions but confusing myself more.
We went for a night-time stroll to Buckingham Palace, hoping to see the queen return from a night out in the city but satisfying ourselves with snapping some photos.
It was getting late so we headed to the station to follow Max’s directions to his place. But the metro station was closed. Someone had ‘fallen’ in front of a train and the line was closed. We checked a bus map – maybe one of the buses we needed to get to Max’s place came this way… but no luck. We resolved to walk to a station on the line we needed and then follow Max’s directions.
We arrived at his place late – almost midnight. And then we sat up talking until 2.30am.
It was a relaxed but interesting day. We started at London Tower, and caught a ferry down the Thames, laughing at the amusing commentary provided by the crew. It was a great way to see many of the sights, including the Tower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe, London Eye, Big Ben and some amazing buildings. We got off at the Westminster pier and walked towards Trafalgar Square. On the way we passed by a crowd outside the Horse Guard building so we joined them in time to watch the inspection.
At Trafalgar Square a series of public performances were underway under the banner 'Liberty'. It seemed to be a festival dedicated to and performed by those with physical and mental impairments. We saw some girls with down syndrome perform a ballet, a deaf girl sing with her band, acrobatics tricks and wheelchair basketball. There was a large crowd and a great feeling. You could see the joy in the eyes of all the performers.
We saw some Piccasos in the National Gallery, and were intrigued by the portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, reading the short commentaries and then imagining the raison d'etre behind their respective visages. We could have spent more time in the galleries but were disappointed when they said closing time and kicked us out.
In the evening we walked to Curzon cinema in Soho, passing through the West End and Chinatown districts where we sat through 40 minutes of ads and previews to eventually see the Argentinean drama The secrets in their eyes.
Hereford to Pontypridd
...And then we cycled into Wales amidst a blaze of glory, cheering fans, adoring spectators, idolizing teens and mad devil men!
But of course, as you must have already guessed this was all part of my dream, and sadly we hadn't really gotten anywhere at all by this stage, and so the truth was, or is, that I, we, are still laying in the tent, in our sleeping bags, really close to each other, because as you all know it's a small tent, and it only fits two small people, so even if we wanted to be further away we couldn't be, because it wouldn't be possible.
And then I heard some dogs, sniffing, curious sniffles, coming closer... but not close enough, good they didn't notice us, or they made an educated guess that bums in the forest have no food on hand and so didn't bother. But now I think about it I don't know any dogs that you might call educated so I'll guess that the former was more likely than the latter.
Actually, as luck would have it we had found a spot that somehow made everyone else walking in the National park visible and conspicuous to us, but us not so visible, or inconspicuous to them. What a mouth full.
We shook all the spiders off the tent, they seem particularly attracted to it here in England, packed up as quickly as we could, rubbed the sleep from our eyes... and discovered a fantastic toilet block as we were riding out.
To make matters even more exceedingly great and excellent we discovered, almost simultaneously, that next to the above mentioned toilets there was a cafe with very affordable food. Throwing my peanut butter sandwich that was so dry it was making me choke back into the bread bag I made a dash to the counter, and ordered a big breakfast.
Almost an hour later and full as dogs we rode off toward Wales.
Sore legs, tired heads, aching bums, we rode across the 'heavily policed' 'border check point' into Welshieland. And then all of a sudden things changed.
The hills went higher, the sun became warmer, and the beer became cooler.
But that last part could be purely speculation, because we never stopped, well OK not never, we had a diminutive intermission to fix a puncture, then we jumped over a fence next to a waterfall for some water, and then we stopped at some bushes to get rid of the water that we drank from the waterfall, and then, and then we stopped in Pontypridd. Stinking of sweat, blood, and tears, exhausted, satisfied, happy to be...
Happy to have made it.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia